Senate should join House in opening window for victims
Here’s some words you don’t hear every day, at least not in Harrisburg. “This isn’t a hard vote.” That was the voice of state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, one of the state’s most vociferous voices on the contentious issue of justice for the victims of childhood sexual abuse.
That was Monday, before the House’s historic vote to open a window for past victims of childhood sexual abuse to file civil actions actions against their attackers.
Rozzi, himself a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest as a child, laid down the gauntlet in words seldom seen or heard in the state Capitol.
“Ask yourself one question: Do you stand with the victims, or do you stand with pedophiles or institutions that protect these pedophiles?”
The House soon made clear where it stood. Legislators voted 171-23 in favor of the amendment to lift for two years the requirement that victims file suit by age 30.
The vote comes in the wake of the damning state grand jury report that laid bare the latest horrific details involving abuse of children by Catholic priests. The grand jury identified 300 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses that abuse more than 1,000 children for as many as six decades.
One of the recommendations made by the grand jury was allowing past victims the opportunity to seek civil redress.
Legislation already was crafted to eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal charges and expanding the window for civil suits – but only for future cases.
Rozzi’s amendment offers justice for hundreds of past victims who saw the window close on their attempts to seek justice when they turned age 30.
Many experts in sexual abuse indicate victims often don’t come to grips with their abuse until much later in adulthood.
“This is a great day for Pennsylvania, a good start,” Rozzi said. “Go home and be proud and let people know you stood with victims.”
It actually was a good week for House members.
Later they voted 131-62 to pass HB 2060, a measure that would get guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
The bill would mandate that those convicted of abuse or with a final Protection From Abuse order against them surrender their guns within 24 hours, not the 60 days currently allowed. It is similar to a bill passed unanimously by the state Senate last spring sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion, D-9 of Middletown.
Now both measures go the state Senate. And that’s the problem. Republican leaders in the Senate have been consistent in opposing opening a window for the victims of past sex abuse.
They fear the measure will not pass constitutional muster. Instead, they have indicated support for a victims’ compensation fund set up by the church and run by a third party.
After the House vote, Senate Republican Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said his colleagues likely would make some changes to the measure.
And of the two-year window: “We haven’t decided yes or no on that.”
The Senate last spring passed a similar bill to expand the window for civil actions as well as eliminating the criminal statute of limitations to file child sex abuse charges, but only for future offenses.
The measure did not include any language to deliver justice to past victims of abuse.
At least one member of the Senate said the horrific details included in the most recent grand jury report changed his mind on the retroactive provision, as well as the other recommendations made by the panel.
Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17 of Montgomery and Delaware counties, said that he had gotten caught up in the legalese of the measures, overlooking the human suffering that took place.
“I got sort of caught up in my own head, on hyper-technical readings of the law … all of which served to blind me to what got me into politics in the first place, which is the desire to help people who have been wronged get justice,” Leach said.
“I changed my mind,” Leach told a crowd that had gathered for a vigil to rally support for the measure.
We hope he’s not the only member of the Senate to come to that realization.